Sportscar365 is contacting drivers from around the world to ask what they’re doing during the coronavirus pandemic and how they’re coping with the racing downtime.
Where are you sitting out the COVID-19 crisis?
I’ve been spending my time in quarantine in Atlanta. I live in the Inman Park neighborhood which is the oldest suburb of Atlanta and has some amazing homes that were built here back in the late 1800s.
It makes for a nice afternoon to walk around to stretch your legs and admire the history of the area.
Atlanta has a strong sense of community so there’s been plenty of heartfelt moments of people helping local restaurants or making signs for the local hospital workers and hanging them from bridges, and buildings, etc and with spring in the air It’s been odd to have such beautiful weather yet a pandemic surrounding us. Interesting times for sure.
Do you have any favorite ‘chores’ to do around the house?
Is cooking is considered a chore? I hate chores, whether its dishes or laundry or whatever but I don’t mind cooking and I’ve definitely been experimenting in the kitchen since there’s not much else to do and its something I’ve always had an interest in.
What was your first job?
My first job was at a grocery store bagging groceries and eventually, I was a cashier at a local chain here in Georgia called Ingles. I moved from that to a local restaurant chain based out of Athens called “Locos” that had opened a location in downtown Winder, Ga.
A friend of mine and I went to get jobs at the new hot spot and when I went in for my interview, one of the owners of the restaurant was a former customer of my Dad’s who had an ’88 Lotus Espirit, so I got the job right on the spot. I started out working on the fryer and eventually became the main cook for the line and honestly really enjoyed it.
That was my last “real” job as I got my first opportunity in racing with Mike Johnson at Archangel in 2001 and I’ve been in motorsport ever since.
What’s your strangest or funniest story about working with Sean Heckman on Dinner With Racers?
The strangest story is probably from the very first trip we ever took. We were driving to Jeff Braun’s house through Texas on the 2nd day ever of DWR and coincidentally we were right outside of the Austin airport close to COTA when we came up to a traffic light at about 11 p.m. There was a ton of construction at this point so there was a lot of safety barrels and gravel and unfinished roads surrounding the area to sort of set the scene.
As we came to a stop at the red light, we noticed there was a cloud of dust and some lights aimed strangely off to my left. As the dust is clearing we see that there’s a motorcycle on the ground like it wrecked and there’s a guy bent over behind it and he’s hurting.
So our first thought was that he just crashed but then this little beat up white 4-door sedan comes flying into the intersection like to a screeching halt, and a guy we hadn’t seen before comes out of the darkness behind the motorcycle rider who’s still bent over like he’s trying to catch his breath or he’s in massive pain, and the guy we hadn’t seen jumps into the white car and they take off.
It was like a scene from “No Country For Old Men”. So my initial read is something is not right but more importantly, this is probably a hit and run scenario and at the very least fleeing the scene of an accident, so I floored it! I figured at the very least, we’ll get the license plate number and we’ll call the cops.
So we start chasing them, mind you we have my Acura MDX but its full of our recording gear and luggage so it’s not exactly set up for qualifying. I was thinking it would be easy to run these chumps down and maybe throw a pit maneuver on them but Sean was the voice of reason and once we got the license plate number we called the cops while in pursuit and told them what street they were on and where to find them.
We ended up staying in Buda, Tx. for the night (If you’ve raced at COTA you’ve probably stayed in Buda) and we were getting calls from detectives all night and we told them we were just passing through but we’d be happy to help, etc. They clearly caught the guys because they had detailed information that they could only have if they had gotten them so it was really interesting.
We made it to Jeff Braun’s house on time the next day and that was a fun story in itself but for the next 2-3 days I was talking with detectives in Austin until they told us we wouldn’t have to come back for anything. Hell of a way to start our DWR career.
Approximately how many airline miles have you flown since the start of your racing career? What airline do you fly and any memorable story while on a flight?
I’m a ‘million miler’ on Delta, I honestly have no idea how many I’ve flown since I started altogether. The early days when you have no status or clout to be able to demand specific airlines, you take the cheapest, rock-polishing flights with six connections just to get wherever you’re going.
Being from Atlanta, Delta is the best option and they treat their customers really well. I often times see people complain about specific airlines but I think that just depends on what day of the week it is, none of them are perfect. I fly to LAX a lot since we started doing Dinner With Racers and with Atlanta being a massive filming location now since the state of Georgia started giving tax breaks to movie productions, I see a lot of celebrities.
One story that comes to mind, I was working for AMCI, a ride and drive company, doing a Honda Civic evaluation out at the Honda proving grounds for the current model Civic. Meanwhile, my friend Rutledge Wood was doing the Toyota Pro Celebrity school they do every year before the Long Beach Grand Prix and that was out at Buttonwillow.
We coincidentally were on the same red-eye flight back from LA to Atlanta so we, along with my longtime friend and boss Lee Ezell met up for a few drinks in the Delta lounge and we were sharing a small booth area with T.I. the rapper and his wife so that was really neat and sort of out of nowhere.
Another fun story would be coincidentally running into Andy Lally and Tim Pappas on a flight back to Atlanta. Andy was filming something for Lexus and I was doing a commercial for Acura and Tim had purchased an SRT GT3 Viper and was going to Road Atlanta to shake it down before our next SRO GT race.
So the three of us are on this same flight randomly and it turned into a nightmare of a flight. We took off and had massive turbulence and then the A/C wasn’t working which at first was supposed to be fine but uncomfortable but then we very urgently told we were diverting to Phoenix and we landed very quickly and admittedly it was pretty frightening for a bit. We ended up deplaning in Phoenix for about 4-5 hours before they got it fixed and made it back but that story stands out.
If you could be the President of IMSA or SRO America for a day, what would you change?
Well if I don’t say driver rankings here I’m gonna get flamed so… I’ve been pretty open for years now that I think having one GT class is the only way forward for the WeatherTech Championship. What SRO has done overseas with their GT3 racing is pretty incredible and I would love to see a GT3 Pro and GT3 Pro-Am for WeatherTech and remove the GTLM cars.
For the current rules of IMSA, instead of trying to manage the debacle of Silver drivers I’d mandate the Bronze driver for GTD and then let you run whatever else you want for the enduros. One Bronze and two Golds, go for it. Let’s stop telling Pros and true Am’s that guys who are absolutely 100 percent paid professionals are Am (Silver), stop it.
The biggest thing I come up against with finding opportunity is budget and I’d try my best for either series to find ways to deliver the best bang for your buck. That part of the sport seems incredibly hard and it’s easy to say it online without having the answers but it always about the money so I’d focus a lot on that. Oh and free pizza.
Is there a track/race still on your ‘bucket list’ that you would like to race one day?
Well, it used to be the Kansas Roval but I got to do that one so I’d have to say Bathurst and Spa.
I’d like the chance to drive either of those tracks but they also have some really iconic race events like the Bathurst 12 hour or the 24 Hours of Spa. The Nurburgring 24 would also be really high up there. Bathurst is probably at the top of my list though since Aussie’s really love motorsports and seem to appreciate the sport for all the right reasons.
We have a lot of DWR listeners down under so I think if I did get a chance to go race down there it would be pretty popular with the podcast fans.
What’s the one thing you are most looking forward to the first day you return to a race track?
I’m hoping our first race back that will happen is Watkins Glen because that track is one of the best layouts on our schedule. The TCR Civic is really fast around there and just having the chance to be one with a machine where there’s real consequences if you make a mistake.
I’m a social person so I’ve missed the camaraderie that comes with driving for a team and I think the LA Honda World guys and I have clicked immediately so I’m looking forward to working with them and getting back into the rhythm of a race weekend. Taylor [Hagler] and I had some big goals for this year and fortunately, she’s really good at Watkins Glen so we’re hopeful we can get back to racing there.